I read an excellent article recently in Novae Res Urbis about the proposed Housing Supply Action Plan initiated in November, which aims to increase provincial housing supply. Municipalities and stakeholders are recommending a “holistic plan that aligns municipal and provincial policy, reduces hurdles and priorities the creation of affordable housing in perpetuity.”

The five themes being focused on are speed, mix, cost, rent and innovation. However, we’re five months in and it’s unclear whether the plan will increase the supply of new market ownership and rental housing; or identify and conquer the barriers keeping Ontario residents from finding a home.

What’s Holding Us Back?

Of course, there is the recurring discussion of municipal planning not being in sync with the provincial Growth Plan (which should have come into effect July 2017), but it takes five years to do municipal comprehensive review so delays from policy alignment are a reality. Zoning updates could take another three years on top of that. The result is “chronic under-zoning” particularly around transit hubs. Where decisions have been made (like increasing intensification zones from 500 to 800 meters around major transit station areas) we should not engage in resident consultation which would be the equivalent of taking “two steps back”.

The Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) is advocating for stricter timelines for how long it takes municipalities to update their official plans and zoning by-laws. Not meeting them would have an impact on what they can negotiate in section 37 benefits.

As a side note, the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) considers section 37 to be a factor in chronic under-zoning. BILD feels it’s as a means to “abuse the system for political gain” and has recommended a review of its use with the desired result of greater transparency and accountability from a municipal perspective. Other suggestions include retracting inclusionary zoning (implemented by the former liberal provincial government), freeze/waive parkland fees and development charges, limit conservation authorities, clarify rules for heritage properties and reduce red tape. Mississauga is given as an example of a municipality with pre-zoning and e-permitting processes in place.

The reality remains that there’s an increasing gap between what the market can produce and what households can afford—whether in terms of owing or renting.

The two largest lobby groups—OHBA and OREA—feel overriding municipalities will make room for millions of new homes. According to Tim Hudack, former PC leader and now head of OREA, “If we have to wait for all of the municipalities across Ontario to catch up to modern times, it would be the grandkids of millennials trying to get a home, not millennials today.” He’s proposing that builders have “as of right” permission to build around transit, without an application process to municipal councils.

Ryerson’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development reported that if land surrounding transit was sound for reasonable densities, Ontario would bring in 4 million new homes, staged as 20,000 homes per year (above what’s already being built).

It’s interesting to note as well, that some areas in the US are contemplating a similar shift in power—California’s SB50 law overrides local control and Oregon is  contemplating a Bill to overrule municipal bylaws for denser forms of housing.

I think we’re all looking forward to the province’s housing plan being revealed in Spring 2019.

The section of Ontario’s Planning Act which allows a City to ask for benefits to construct or improve facilities when a development requires a Zoning By-law amendment.

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